On A Journey To Build A Dream School Together In Austria
I am a Community Manager and, as part of the job, I talk to our users a lot. They tell me all sorts of stories, from what they enjoy the most about our product to how they recently traveled to Greece for a 10-day vacation. If you’re going to listen to them, you’ll surely feel inspired to start chasing and building your dream.
But, there is one that really caught my attention.
It’s a story about a group of people who were passionate and brave enough to build their dream from scratch– all by themselves.
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A school at the foot of the Alps
Situated at the foot of the Alps and in a quiet and beautiful place in Pettenbach, Austria, there is this tiny school right next to a forest- Schule an der Alm (School at the Alm).
In that school, students choose what they want to learn and when they want to learn.
Many classes take place outdoors as children aged 6 to 14 years old concentrate on their subjects of interests in small groups. They climb trees in a race to the top, experience living in a teepee, go skiing, ice skating and sledging during winter.
They have a lot of special activities, too. One particular activity that children excitedly look forward to is Creative Day.
On Creative Day, they have the opportunity and the freedom to go wild with their imagination. They can work with wood to craft their own mini houses or use the sewing machine to design their own clothes.
What makes the school even more unique is that it is built by parents, teachers, and children together!
The start of the dream school
It all started about 10 years ago.
Two young women, together with parents like themselves, had a dream to build a school for their children so they could be educated at their will.
Gudrun, one of the teachers at the school then, worked in a normal primary school before.
When it was time for her second son to go to school, “My son should not be educated the same old way I did,” she told herself. “He should not sit in front of a desk for more than 5 hours a day when half of the time, it’s just his teacher talking.”
With such belief, she and the parents she met at Kindergruppe (children’s group) who share the same ideas, took action and founded their own school.
Michael, a gentle, loving father of two from the Kindergruppe, was Gudrun’s neighbor at the time. They decided to start the school at his home where his 13-year-old son later enrolled as well.
“I already know Gudrun and how she teaches, so did my son. We just like the people and how they worked,” Michael told me during my interview. “And I believe, real good learning has to come from following one’s own interests, something the school believes in, too.”
It was bold and brave of Gudrun, Michael and the other parents to be different and to fearlessly hop on a journey to help children educate in nature, out of their own nature.
And it is a one-of-a-kind dream they did not easily give up or compromise.
“Children should have the right to choose what, and when they want to learn, at their own speed.”
— Michael Praschma, a 62-year-old copywriter and one of the parents
It was not until too many children enrolled that teachers, parents, and students started adapting their new school building, constructing classrooms and school backyard.
The adults were responsible for countless duties like cutting the wood, painting the walls and roughing in electrical wiring. Children, on the other hand, were helping them to carry objects from one location to another.
The role of technology in the school
School at the Alm is like a big family and every single person in the school needs to be involved. Every parent needs to spend at least 100 hours helping out with different tasks every year. And it becomes more each year!
If both parents have a job or if their children have to be looked after, a discussion on which tasks are absolutely necessary or not is a must.
Evolution of technology: In the early days, they tried to do this via emails, a service everyone is used to. However, it later became difficult for them to tell who was responsible for what, how much of something has been done or what decisions have been made.
“Honestly, emails just resulted in a tsunami. So, we spent about 20 hours looking for a solution,” said Michael, who is responsible for keeping everyone on track.
For me, it was quite surprising how such a “hand-made” school actively looked for and embraced “tech” apps to help them move things along smoothly.
Quire is a central place for task management, where they break down tasks to smaller subtasks for collaboration and tracking. Doodle, meanwhile, is used to decide a meeting time and appear.in is for arranging video calls in meetings.
“Doodle and appear.in, they very much enhance the Quire tool to help us get things rolling,” said Michael.
After 10 years
School at the Alm has now grown into a primary and secondary school. Currently, it has 32 students, ages 6 to 14, 58 parents and 6 teachers.
Before they welcome the new school year which begins in September, the school will be busy- super busy.
An open house day will kick off in May and everybody will be playing a part. Every parent, teacher and, of course, student will be responsible for different tasks. They will be making sandwiches for the buffet, preparing presentations for the information stand and attending little children’s corner to play with and supervise kids.
This is the story about the school at the Alm.
After reading the story, did it inspire you to make a difference in the world? Did it awaken the giant in your heart? Did you feel inspired to start building your dream? Just go for it!
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Author: Crystal Chen
By day, she is a Community Manager at a small software company. At night, she writes, reads and listens to music. Lately, she is into Norwegian drama series SKAM and green smoothies.